The Station Agent (2003)

Recently, I have become utterly obsessed with George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series on HBO. A consequence of this new-found obsession has resulted in me doubling back to read the books from which it is based.  So far, I have only finished the first in the series, and it only took me 3 weeks, not bad considering its roughly 800 pages in length and I have a job I need to hold down.  My enthusiasm for the show has started to come close to the level of admiration that I had for previous HBO entertainments such as The Sopranos and The Wire, and I have a feeling that as I continue to bury myself in the novels and wait (full of agony it will be, I’m sure) for the next season it will hit those heights without issue. I have begun to talk to anyone who will listen about both mediums and how great it is; sometimes the person in question is already up to speed, other times not. My new mission is to get as many people I know to watch the show for two reasons:

  1. This will increase my network of Game of Thrones lovers/fans, which will in turn increase the amount of conversations I can have about the characters, their motivation, predictions for future plot points and developments, and allow me to start a pool on exactly when those White Walker folks will finally show up for good.
  2. Keeping in mind that I have read only one of the novels at this point, it seems obvious that the show is designed as nothing more than a gateway to the books themselves. For most, fantasy novels aren’t a popular choice and carry a stigma about them that can (unfairly) undercut their value. A TV show based on a dense fantasy series appeals to a wider swath of the population; for some reason, the nerd alert doesn’t ring quite as loud. I personally think this sentiment is garbage but I must confess that I haven’t read much science fiction or fantasy novels in my time. Douglas Adams and Phillip K. Dick are the only authors I can recall giving a chance. With that said, now it’s time to say this: if you enjoy reading and you enjoy a 100% engrossing story line, pick up the first entry to the series now. The amount of depth that Martin gives his characters and the world they inhabit is nothing short of flabbergasting serving to strengthen an already strong show, making it into a well-crafted companion piece.

While the reasons I have fallen in love with this show are numerous, one of the major ones is the acting that is on display—week in and week out—it runs circles around 99% of the other shows lighting up your idiot box. The characters are beyond complicated, offering the viewer a stunning amount of development and motivation, creating fully drawn, relatable characters. In a show loaded with memorable performances, Peter Dinklage’s performance as Tyrion Lannister has become the breakout role, winning this underused actor an Emmy and making him a household name. Not bad for an actor that was previously known by mainstream audiences—if at all—as the angry, drop-kicking  dwarf with a talent for banging out children’s books in Elf.

The same year that Will Ferrell’s Christmas classic was released, Peter Dinklage stared in the first directorial offering from indie darling Tom McCarthy, The Station Agent. A critical and box office success, it won the actor several awards and created quite the buzz for itself when it debuted at Sundance. Dinklage breathes life into a character named Finbar McBride, a train enthusiast who has become disinterested in any interaction whatsoever with his community or humanity in general. He works in a model train store along with—what appears to be—his only friend, an elderly gentleman that he goes to train parties with, dines with, and for most of their days, sits in comfortable silence with. Finbar is a dwarf, and much to his chagrin, it seems to be the only thing about him that interests others. Insults are hurled at him as he walks the streets and his grocer snaps unsolicited photos of him when he frequents the store to buy toilet paper and beef jerky. It’s never a mystery for Finn when it comes to what’s on people’s minds when they see him; it’s only a question of how tactfully the question comes at him. In order to cope, Fin responds by living in solitude, allowing his work to evolve into a defense mechanism; his defiance is legendary, able to withstand any barbs tossed his way and shut down any stranger that may approach him. To borrow a phrase from Mike Tyson, his defense is impregnable.

When his only friend dies early on, Fin inherits an abandoned train station from him that is located in Newfoundland, New Jersey. Since Fin has nothing preventing him from moving, he immediately packs up his meager belongings and leaves out for his new home. Taking up residence in a dilapidated structure that once housed the ticket agent, he inadvertently creates quite a stir, at least when it pertains to Joe Oramas (Bobby Cannavale), who runs a coffee and food truck on a road that doesn’t necessitate one. Joe is relentlessly friendly and talkative and his lonely business location has only served to highlight his chatty, likeable nature. Even Fin’s finely tuned defense mechanisms can’t shut down Joe—a human wrecking ball of positivity—and he begins to accompany Fin around town and on his all-day train-watching sojourns. The unlikely duo turns into a trio with the addition of Olivia (Patricia Clarkson), a reclusive artist who works in the medium of paint and who is deep into the grieving process spurned on by the death of her son. These three lonely individuals slowly begin to open up and grow to enjoy each other’s company, melting into each other in a way that provides each with a strength they lacked prior to their meeting.

McCarthy’s first film exhibits the restraint of a master director; it’s a surprisingly effective and quiet film, one that values the spaces between words and silent glances between new, wary friends. The director’s appreciation for silence is the perfect (and really only) choice for a delicate, thoughtful, and frequently uproarious film about loneliness.  The Station Agent is a film that draws you in with its slice-of-life approach and allows its story to grow organically, adopting a slow pace allowing the viewer to hang out with its protagonists, slowly getting to know them much like a real relationship would be initiated. If you think that a film filled with silence and sadness would leave you bored and fighting sleep, think again; every shot, every glance in the film leaves you wanting more and demands attention from its audience.

Dinklage is nothing short of magnetic in a rare, staring role. His restraint and solemn nature are compelling, and when Fin finally blows his top at a local bar late in the movie, the full brunt of his allure breaks through, leaving no doubt that Dinklage could play any role made available to him. Butch Cassidy. Don Corleone. Mad fucking Max. He could play them all. During this tense, memorable scene, Fin’s level of pathos reaches crazy intense levels, only serving to heighten his already impressive screen charisma. Yes, Dinklage is nothing short of a movie star and his acting chops help McCarthy’s film avoid the pitfalls that naturally come with a movie revolving around a dwarf. Dinklage’s performance and McCarthy’s direction are interested in nothing other than treating Fin as a fully rounded character, checking the fear of cringe-worthy scenes at the door. It becomes easy to understand why people are constantly drawn to Fin because, as a viewer, you are too. His silence draws you in, his magnetic pull too strong, and soon enough, you find yourself needing to know more. And when he finally opens up to the world, it makes you want to stand and cheer.

-David

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